As my time in Artena has drawn to a close, I am now able to take a step back and appreciate everything I have learned over the past four weeks. As a student of architecture and preservation, I decided to participate in this dig because I wanted to study historical architecture firsthand. I was interested in learning the process of piecing together history through studying the remains of the ancient built environment. The idea of feeling those pieces of history in my own hands, rather than studying them from thousands of miles away in a classroom, seemed rewarding. My first dig has provided a valuable understanding of this process, as well as other skills and knowledge I was not even aware I could gain.
There were some things I expected to learn: the protocols and practices of digging, how physically demanding digging is, and how to analyze a site’s findings. There were also many unexpected aspects that came to light: the tedious and slow quality of archeological work, and most important to me as an architecture student, our intimate connection with the lives of the ancient people that once lived on the site, and the creativity that goes into piecing together the story of these people and their lives.
There are many aspects of archeology that relate to architecture, like walls and building materials; however it is much more than these physical pieces of evidence that are important in archeology. In architecture studios, the non-physical aspect of design is important, but that can often be lost in the cool technologies and interesting forms that are so often seen in student work. Through this dig, I have come to understand the importance of the the intangible aspects of architecture that archeology is so focused on—the story behind these artifacts, the everyday life that went on inside of these walls, the people who created the nails and cut the stone that archeologists are interested in—and as a result, I have gained a new perspective.
While finding artifacts and dating walls is interesting, it does not matter without thinking about the people who inhabited the site. I learned that to really understand what is going on on-site, you have to place yourself in the minds of the people who were using the space. Why did they build the walls the way they did? Why are there different floor levels? Why is the villa oriented in a specific way? Thinking about the day-to-day life of these people helps us create possible answers to those questions, and as most of the small items we found were common, such as everyday pieces of pottery, it humanized the people of Piano della Civita. They were more than just a concept, and more than just a piece of history to study as part of the whole Roman civilization; they were real people who had simple everyday lives just like us. Knowing that the site had eventually been abandoned or destroyed makes you wonder what happened to these people, and where their lives went from there. Being so intimate with these peoples’ belongings and home makes you think a lot more about them as real people, helping us as historians understand their lives and the context of their lives better. I truly believe that having this perspective and understanding will help me become a more thoughtful architectural designer.
The academic side of my time in Artena has been incredibly enriching. But I cannot reflect on what I’ve learned on-site without thinking about the people and the place that made my experience in Artena what it was. Without an equally enthusiastic group of friends learning alongside me, a welcoming group of local residents who were excited for us to be bringing their history to light, a dedicated professor, and the opportunity to reflect on my experience through this blog, my experience in Artena would not have been nearly as fulfilling as it has been.